17 Epic Health Benefits of Hiking
What are the health benefits of hiking?
By the end of this article, I hope you might be asking yourself “What AREN’T the health benefits of hiking??”
One of the things I personally love about hiking is the fact that you can combine a workout with exploring new places. Many underestimate the health benefits of hiking and why this hobby can drastically improve your quality of life (especially if you have a sedentary job and lifestyle).
It’s important to remember that hiking is no golden medicine for illness and anti-ageing. It goes hand in hand with living a healthy and balanced life but if you incorporate hiking into your life routine then you absolutely will reap the rewards – long and short term.
- Total Body Workout
- Cardiovascular Health
- Improved Flexibility
- Improved Bone Strength and Density
- Controls and Prevents Diabetes
- Aerobic Fitness
- Great Fat Burner
- Sociable Activity
- Out in Nature
- Mental Health
- Curbs Depression
- Improved Levels of Creativity
- Improved Balance and Stability
- Improved Sleep
- Improved Lung Capacity and Efficiency
- Vitamin D Exposure
It’s a Total Body Workout
Don’t get me
When I say “workout”, I’m talking more about the cardiovascular benefits of hiking. Hiking certainly will build up muscles in your legs over time if you do a lot of it, but it’s not optimal if gains are your only goal. You’ll find your glutes, quads, hamstrings and lower legs will get a lot stronger over time if you start doing plenty of hiking.
It’s also incredibly good for your heart and all-around general fitness. Generally speaking, when I go on a day-long hike my heart rate will average between 80 and 120 beats per minute. It’ll go quite a bit lower than this when I stop, and it will head up into the aerobic, and sometimes even anaerobic, zones when I’m doing some steep climbing.
As well as legs, it’s also great for core strength. As you’re maintaining posture going up or down it’s a great workout for your core muscles. Generally, when I go hiking I’ll be carrying a backpack (my pack link) with food and water. This gets the shoulder muscles and is great for general upper body strength.
The benefits of this are kind of alluded to above but it definitely deserves its own category. Hiking is one of the best exercises you can do for cardiovascular health.
Generally, when you’re out hiking for several hours, your heart rate is higher than normal.
Over time, this lowers the blood pressure which significantly lowers your chance of getting some form of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, heart disease).
Bear in mind that going on one hike doesn’t mean you’ll be healthy forever. If it becomes part of an overall healthy lifestyle then hiking will do wonders for your all-around health.
It needs to become a habit, something you strive to do at least once or twice a week (depending on your circumstances/climate etc) combined with healthy food and other forms of exercise.
I’m always staggered at how undervalued good flexibility is in today’s society. Better flexibility means better energy efficiency, less risk of injury, increased physical performance and a greater flow of blood and vital nutrients to the muscles.
Long steps will stretch your hip flexors greatly and any form of uphill walking stretches all your leg muscles (especially calves).
I always recommend a stretching routine before and after hiking to get your muscles ready for a greater range of movement.
I make sure I stretch out my hamstrings, glutes, groin, lower and upper back, and chest. I’ll do a good 10 minutes before and after the hike.
You’ll soon gauge over time how much stretching is necessary for you.
Stretching before gets your muscles warmed up for what’s to come and reduces your chance of injury. Stretching afterwards gets your muscles back to their normal length and improves recovery time.
Improved Bone Strength and Density
We’re often obsessed with muscle strength and growth without thinking too much about our bones. Well, they actually work in a similar manner.
“Adding more load to bones stresses them, and they respond by building more cells” – Karen Friel.
Maintaining and increasing bone strength is an excellent treatment and one of the best ways of preventing osteoporosis.
Controls and Prevents Diabetes
This one links up with cardiovascular health in many ways. The main benefit here is that hiking lowers the blood glucose levels and improves the way our bodies use insulin.
A huge amount of diabetics also have high blood pressure. Hiking and aerobic exercise lower blood pressure which massively improves general health.
I’m by no means an expert on the science of diabetes so will leave more information on this topic for another day!
Since I got properly into hiking a few years back, I have noticed a huge increase in my general aerobic fitness.
Aerobic fitness is your cardiovascular fitness so essentially ties in with one or two of the previous points. It’s basically all about how much oxygen is pumped to your working muscles and how efficiently your muscles use that oxygen.
What you’re doing is increasing the strength of your heart which is arguably the most important organ in the body. It only makes sense that you keep it as healthy as can be.
Because hiking is low to moderate intensity, you’ll often find yourself in the aerobic heart rate zone. Even if you’re not, you’ll be in the zones just below it for prolonged periods of time which is also very beneficial. This leads me on to the next point….
Great Fat Burner
In the low and aerobic heart rate zones, your body relies on 50% or more fat calories as its fuel source.
While anaerobic exercise is actually more beneficial for weight loss because it burns way more calories in total, the aerobic and fat burning zones are great for hiking because they can be maintained for hours at a time. Anaerobic is short and generally high intensity.
I currently use a Garmin Fenix 5X to track my exercise progress. After some fairly brutal day hikes, I’ve often burned well in excess of 3,500 calories (according to my watch). That’s a whole lot of fat!
I often go hiking with friends and we find ourselves talking about anything and everything. I also find the conversations out in the hills go much deeper than the standard surface level pub chat.
There are also benefits of hiking alone. I’ve also done this several times and it’s relaxing and soothing in its own way.
Out in Nature
It’s a no-brainer that hiking gets you out in and at one with nature. I find this especially relaxing and appreciate it much more if I’m out by myself. You really get a sense of the mountains’ grandeur and all the amazing nature that is out there.
I also absolutely love getting to see different birds and animals. Before I really got into hiking, I had never seen so many wild animals and have seen some birds that only live at high altitudes. It’s great to see these animals in their natural habitat.
This one I find very interesting and it staggers me that more people with mental health issues don’t turn to something like hiking (or even just going out for a stroll) to help with symptoms.
The mental health benefits of hiking are numerous and in the Shetland Islands in Northern
I think it’s great to see a natural remedy being used and these things should be applied much more than your standard over the counter medicines.
Studies have shown that being out in nature actually boosts your brain power more than walking around a built-up area. You have improved creativity levels and it’s thought that this is down to the levels of relaxation being out in the country.
It’s also been shown that more time out in nature and hills reduces the number of negative thoughts and curbs our tendency to overthink possible stressful situations in our lives. This brings me nicely on to the next point….
Hiking also works wonders for those suffering from depression. This is one of those illnesses that doctors in Shetland (mentioned above) use hiking as an official treatment for. There are a number of reasons it does this…
Hiking helps you to disconnect from the day-to-day hustle and grind and gives you time to actually reflect. We become so bogged down on what’s going on in our lives and being overloaded with numerous stress factors that rarely do we actually take a bit of time to step back and reflect on things. Hiking is an amazing opportunity to do this.
Improved Levels of Creativity
There are several experiments involving being out in nature and our creativity levels. While there is nothing absolutely concrete, the general trend tends to be that the more time we spend out in nature, the higher our creativity levels.
One of the reasons for this is disconnecting electronically from the world. We are given time to think and problem solve. This can happen deliberately and on a subconscious level.
Another reason mentioned is just being out in the presence of plants and trees etc. It’s quite well known that having houseplants is linked to a better quality of life. Think of this being the same out in nature but on a much larger scale.
Improved Balance and
Walking and hiking build and maintain lower body strength. This lower body strength is integral to good balance. Think about how incredibly balanced a professional gymnast is… that is down to their unbelievable upper and lower body strength.
Arguably THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for our health and fitness is getting adequate sleep. I know the common three principles for health and fitness are nutrition, exercise and rest, while this is partly true it’s definitely the case that sleep is the foundation of the other two.
Without good sleep you won’t exercise as well, and you’ll be inclined to eat more starchy or carb-rich foods.
Slight digression I know, but I can’t express how important sleep is. In today’s society, we often glorify neglecting sleep and this is totally stupid in my (and many scientists’) eyes.
It’s well known that exercise helps us sleep better. Hiking is no different! I find after a long day out in the hills I sleep like an absolute baby and wake up the next day feeling revitalised and refreshed (and sometimes a little sore!).
If you want to know more about the importance of sleep then you absolutely must read this book written by sleep doctor Matthew Walker. You can also listen to his awesome interview with Joe Rogan. A clip of that interview is below.
Improved Lung Capacity and Efficiency
Again this is something related to many types of exercise. Hiking is fantastic for this because you often find yourself going up to high altitudes.
The higher you get, the thinner the air gets and the harder it is for our lungs to draw that air in. This increases our lungs’ efficiency and improves its function. You’ll also notice the more you hike, the steadier your breathing will become.
You’re never reaching sufficiently high altitudes in the likes of Scotland to notice a difference in the air. It’s not until you hit about 5000 ft that it starts to become seriously tough and it’ll start to feel a lot harder to get a full breath of air.
I noticed this on some of the volcanoes I climbed in Central America.
Vitamin D Exposure
Another thing so often neglected in today’s culture! Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a huge problem and is getting linked to more and more diseases and illnesses.
This is especially prevalent in countries in the northern hemisphere where the winter months get very little sunlight.
That’s why we need to get outside as much as we can, especially when the weather is sunny. You will absolutely reap the benefits of sufficient Vitamin D in the long run.
Vitamin D is vital for our bones, teeth, muscles, immune system as well as much more. It helps our body absorb and store calcium, it maintains healthy kidneys and is good for our digestive system.
This is possibly the most important of the lot. It’s also a good one to finish with because everything I’ve listed is vital for longevity and a healthy life.
It again goes back to the numerous health benefits of hiking. These range from improved lung performance to a healthy heart to increased Vitamin D exposure.
One source even states that apparently, 56% of centenarians go for at least one hike every single week. This can range from a brisk walk in the forest, to conquering a mountain.
While there are dozens of things which contribute to living as long a life as possible – making hiking part of your exercise/hobby routine certainly won’t do it any harm!
I’ve probably missed out some health benefits but I’ve compiled as many as I could come up with!
There are heaps of benefits to hiking and it’s something more of us should be doing. In the summer months, I try and get out into the mountains at least once a week and every couple of weeks in the winter.
It keeps me feeling fit and healthy, and is just a great way to get away from the day-to-day grind.
I hope you found the information useful and if you can think of any more health benefits of hiking then please, leave them in the comments section below! Thanks a lot for reading. 🙂